Thursday, August 27, 2009

Final Reflection

Walking into this Spring Grove experience, I was completely neutral. I didn't feel one way or the other toward this place or any cemetery for that matter. I didn't really expect much but to learn facts about a place. It ended up being much more than that. My original cemetery walk-throughs were nothing but a business oriented trip. As I said before I would come into the cemetery to see the person who I was visiting, and then I would leave.
To tell you the truth I never even realized how big Spring Grove. On my previous trips, I saw it as a one lane road leading to the visited grave. Walking around let me know just how big this place is and how much it has to offer. Because of my business state of mind, I didn't allow myself to admire the greenery and scenery. I saw enormous monuments that I will never forget. Whether it was the huge Dexter mausoleum or the one and only Charles West. You just don't realize how small and insignificant you are when you are apart of something this big. It really is just amazing.
This experience also made me think about my own life and death. Sometimes I just get so caught up on what is going on around me I forget to stop and smell the roses. I feel like I am on the ideal path for my life right now but what does it really matter if you cant dissect and appreciate the journey. This place has helped me relax. I am usually a manic over analytical person and I have lost my laid back nature. Spring Grove brought it back. Also, when I see people who have died much younger than I, it helps me realize that I need to live every day to the fullest. As far as death, it made me question how I would like to be remembered. I used to say that I wanted to be cremated, with my ashes in the possession of no one. I have come to the realization that this may be selfish.
The reason I feel like I shouldn't be cremated, with my ashes spread over Old Trafford, is because cemeteries are for the living. What kind of man would I be if I took the right for my loved ones to visit me away from them. Everyone grieves differently and this must be respected. I though of a burial of a traditional easy way out (for me personally) but now I almost find it necessary for the family to have this place. The cemetery is a place for the mourners to reflect on the life of their loved one and bring closure to any unsettling feelings they may have. It is a way to honor the person and remember that they once played a strong role in your life as well.
This course has also helped me become an explorer all over again. Do you remember when you were a child? Not only did you ask a barrage of questioning about everything but you went to find out for yourself. Though I didn't have a strong interest in cemeteries before this class, but it has allowed me to appreciate my new found knowledge. Whether it be a new sport or a small city, this class has let me know that I need to go beyond Wikipedia and find these things out myself. The Spring Grove website just cant justify the things you see and feel when you are actually walking around.
I know my reflections and thoughts have been awfully corny but Spring Grove brings the cliches right out of you. This place has allowed me to ave much more respect for cemeteries as a whole. Now when I walk into a cemetery, even if it is my family's dinky lot, a strong feeling of history and culture whooshes over my body. They are awfully heavy places. It's almost like you have thousands of people standing in front of you with an autobiography in hand. I have a greater appreciation for symbols which I would normally overlook and I have a better sense of unit. This group of people will forever have a bond which few can share. How many folks can say they took a class at one of the biggest U.S. cemeteries and may even be able to give a tour (a brief one of course). This is an experience I will never forget. I definitely wouldn't mind dying in Cincinnati!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last week at the Grove

After this past weeks discussion, it is clear that we have all evolved from this experience. In the beginning of the course, everyone was a little more soft spoken and reserved. Our discussion with John Tallmadge was one for the ages. I feel like every single one of us helped each other out with our insights to gain a greater understanding of the book and our cemetery experience as a whole. It was very refreshing to have a sit down with an author who was so down to earth and relatable. He sat through a full discussion of a book he hadn't read and still challenged us to delve deeper into the subject material. I enjoyed the book for what it was. I didnt go in expecting to purchase a copy for the shelf but I was still pleasantly surprised. It was also an easy read. I set aside 6 hours two days before class and just knocked it out. After discovering that the authore was 19, there were some aspects of the book that clicked with this little factoid (although I did'nt let it ruin my reading experience). I was pretty sad that it was our last week in the cemetery. For eight straight weeks it felt like this whole place was at our fingertips. I wouldnt trade this experience in for the world. It has caused me to revert back to me elementary school ways of the young Sam Spade. I have so many things on my plate that I forget to explore the really interesting things in life that pose questions. Being at the cemetery has allowed me to not just take certain things at face value (that we take for granted) and dig deeper. What a way to end the course!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Memorial Mausoleum

It is always interesting to hear every one's point of view when it comes to cemeteries and Spring Grove. I do agree with the insights and most opinions regarding the cemetery. I understand that there is money involved but I do not view Spring Grove as a business. Money doesn't play a very important role in my life so I try and just look at the cemetery for what it truly is. Just as most of the class said, it is a place for the living. Funerals and cemeteries fulfill the strong emotional needs of the survivors and help them deal with their loss. If money was not involved then every cemetery would be like the depressing one that I visited, and I know no one would want to visit their family there. Everything needs money in order to run. Whether it be charities, the Salvation Army, or even Spring Grove, these places are providing an important service for the community. It isn't like there is CEO of Spring Grove driving around in a Maserati as he makes loads of money off the dead. Regardless if we may not agree with the over sized monuments or bust located throughout the cemetery, it is the persons/family's right to do what they want. We are who we are. I think one thing we can all agree on is that Spring Grove is a wonderful place. After our discussion we ventured over to the memorial mausoleum. It was unlike anything I had seen in my life. Everyone in my immediate family wants to be cremated so this was like seeing a cemetery within a cemetery. I have always said I want my ashes to be spread over Old Trafford Stadium's pitch (Manchester United Futbol field) but I have come to the realization that it may be a little selfish on my part. The cemetery can be a little impersonal and overwhelming at times when you have thousands of other monuments and headstones surrounding you but this place was so personal. The stained glass windows and various marbles gave each room its own look and feel. I felt like I was looking at a museum exhibit. I know we were discussing what would happen to cemeteries when all the space is filled up, but now that cremation is becoming even more common, I think it would be great to erect more buildings like this. I will have to admit that some of the stained glass works and art were just a little random. It made it almost like a themed hotel for the dead. I can almost imagine the conversation between the families and funeral directors. "Soooo, would you like to put your loved one in the phoenix room with Salisbury pink marble or would you like the fountain room with hanging plants. It was also really comfortable inside. There were padded benches with air conditioned rooms and lobby's to sit. I know this may not sound important but sometimes it ruins the mourners experience and time of reflection when there are mosquitoes and other various bugs waiting to treat your legs like golden corral after 6 pm. This is a place where you can come any time of year and just relax while thinking about the loved one who has passed. I also looked through the guestbook in the front of the building and it was heartwarming to read some of the messages to family members who are gone. The urns were also a treat. I don't know why they wouldn't just take them home and put them on a mantle but hey, to each their own. They all had their own personal touch. Randing from golfers to fishers these urns were all beautiful in their own way. I would have to give this experience two thumbs way up because it was a change of pace from the usual older monuments and iconography.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dexter Mausoleum (unfinished business)

I think this may be the greatest thing I have seen at Spring Grove to date. The Gothic feel of the Dexter Mausoleum gives a good sense of history and character. The saddest part about the whole experience is the fact that it isn't finished. This actually gives it even more character in my opinion. It gives the onlooker a chance to create their own story for what happened and/or the reason behind it being incomplete. Edmund Dexter was one of Cincinnati's most successful whiskey importers and rectifiers. Him and his brother paid a whopping $100,000 (1.3 million in today's money) for this gargantuous structure. The reason this place spoke to me so much is not only the inside but the building itself. I dont know much about architecture but I am actually a fan of James Keys Wilson. His style was so rich and reminescent of the Gothic rvival. Some of his other buildings in the city are just as magical and remind me of campus buildings located at Ivy League schools on the east coast. Just like some of the smaller scale monuments at Spring Grove, it was built in sandstone (one of the worst building materials). I would have to say the inside was very crepy and I felt like I was a cast member in a Wes Craven film. The unfinished elevator with the broken fence gives you reason to wonder as well... I think if they finished the upstairs, this building would easily surpass Cincinnati history and get more national/world recognition. If there was proper upkeep like some other keys works (Wise Temple on Plum) they may have to charge to get into the cemetery. I enjoyed walking around for the remainderof class but I could'nt keep my mind off this building and the possible story behind it and it's purchasers. I actually found out that there is a drink named after Edmund Dexter. For all you whiskey fans here is the recipe.

Ed Dexter
2 ounces Bourbon (Elijah Craig 12 yr)
1/2 ounce orange curaƧao (Harlequin)
1/4 ounce simple syrup

stir over ice, strain into cocktail glass
garnish with lemon twist and slice of orange

Edmund Dexter, Cincinnati’s
most successful Whiskey
importer and rectifier

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Norman Chapel

It's chapels like this that make you want to become an art history major. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor due to my sheer amazement for this hidden gem. Each week I go into the cemetery telling myself that I have seen it all. Then there was Norman Chapel. As soon as we all walked in, I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I know it all may sound a little cheesy but as I looked around this beautiful piece of architecture I visualized the 19th century stone carvers each putting their own twist on the Chapel. The intricate patterns of the arches and pillars were truly breathtaking. We all think of conventional professions but looking at these makes you appreciate the guy behind the scenes. Structures like this are usually appreciated as a whole but after doing some investigative work you come to admire the small details. Another thing I really liked was the stained glass window displaying the ascension of Christ. It seems like when the sun hits it in the right place, it would be an even more beautiful sight. All in all, I really enjoyed Norman Chapel and plan on adding it to my list of must-sees at Spring Grove.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Beech Grove Cemetery

Originally I considered exploring Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale. That was until I realized that it was a subsidiary of Spring Grove. I remembered this small cemetery in Springfield Township that I used to drive by almost every day. I didn't know the name of it nor had I ever walked the grounds. When I arrived, it was a like a whole new world. A much smaller and more dreary world compared to the monstrous Spring Grove. The cemetery was in such a tarnished state. Headstones were knocked over. Buildings were falling apart. The grass was uncut. Graves were sunk in. It was nearly a polar opposite of the cemetery I have come to know and love over the past five weeks. The latest burial date I discovered was 2005 which lead me to believe that the cemetery is still up and running. That was until I did a further investigation. This cemetery is a ghost town. I came to realize that this place has become a stain on the Springfield Township community. State law requires them to take over the abandoned cemetery (previously owned by Bethel AME Church in Lockland). The cemetery is currently in foreclosure and Springfield Township is in the process of transferring ownership. Once the township transfers the ownership, they will assume all maintenance duties. I saw a photo article showing a Boy Scout troop leveling some of the headstones. I found another article stating that a purchased burial plot had been filled with someone else's remains. This place currently owes Key Bank $42,000. The township currently has $5,ooo in their general budget allotted for the cemetery so it should be in better shape at year's end.

Some interesting facts:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Week 4 Reflection

An example of a more modern headstone

After spending four weeks in Spring Grove I was beginning to forget the fact that bodies are still being buried there today. I got so used to seeing burials dating before 195o. I enjoyed the tram tour not only because it agreed with my laziness but also because of the newer architecture. Sometimes I forget I'm in a cemetery and instead feel like it's a Disney themed park. I really enjoyed being able to see a lot of the cemetery in such a short amount of time. The newer sections were unlike the old in the sense that the hills and space were a lot more open. It leads me to believe that they reduced plot sizes after more and more people were asking to be buried at Spring Grove. This exploration of Spring Grove is something that I would never think to do on my own time but I'm grateful to investigate one of the precious gems of the city.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Week 3 Reflection

With the advancement of technology and resources, new graves and monuments seem to be able to withstand the elements and the test of time. It's really sad to think that some of these beautiful monuments with such a rich history are fading away. If this is how these people would like to be remembered, it pains me to think that along with these decaying stones their life and legacy are also being lost. I really enjoyed getting dirty and rubbing the stones. I had so much angst and anticipation built up just to see what the inscriptions read on the older stones. Though our method was slightly flawed because of the coarse stone, I had a great time getting my hands dirty. I also really enjoyed the rush of discovery and almost felt like a historian or paleontologist.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

George F. Wambsgans

George Wambsgans originally came to the US from Germany in the early 19th century as a boy. There isn't much information about him or the family but on record there were only 22 people with the last name Wambsgans to come to the US from Germany (while there still remains a community full of them in Germany). George died in 1875 of consumption (also known as tuberculosis). One of the most notable symbols on Mr. Wambsgans monument is the angel holding the palm. Usually angels are used in order symbolize protection or guardianship. They also stand for dignity, honor, and glory. The palm branch usually stands for victory justice and honor. However an angel holding a palm branch in their hand stands for the reward of the righteous. Mr. Wambsgans was probably a proud man who played life by the rules (or at least with a sense of dignity). The second example of symbolism is the cross, anchor, and heart. These three items together is the symbol for faith, hope, and charity. This leads me to beleive that Mr. Wambsgans was a man of faith. The angel and the cross alone display this. The third symbol, which I was originally unaware of, is the poppy close to the top of the monument. The use of poppies originates from Greco-Roman myths. The symbolism not only comes from the scarlet red colour but also the usage of poppy. The color represents the promise of resurrection after death and the poppy iself represents eternal sleep (because of the opium extracted from them). The last symbol is that of the celtic cross lying at the very top of the monument like a christmas tree angel. The celtic cross used to mark the graves of preists prior to the 19th century but now they are everywhere around the cemetery. It is now seen as a powerful symbol of faith and heritage. Though I could'nt find much information on Mr. Wambsgans it seems like he lived a full and prideful life. It just goes to show that not only are there countless symbols in the cemetery, but millions of life stories.

Week 2 Reflection

This week was much different from the last because of the array of monuments. The first week was mostly more traditional monuments and graves with a lot of marquee names in the city. This week was full of new symbols, structures, and setups. I witnessed a few monuments in the form of a tree. The tree branches cut off represent the end of life and family line but I also came to find out that most of the trees in the cemetery were done by big wigs in the insurance business. I am not sure of the significance of trees and insurance, although I am sure there is one. I also saw a lot of masonic symbols. One of the symbols that struck me most was the iron cross. Knowing that Cincinnati has a deep German Heritage cleared up my reasoning for seeing so many. The iron cross was a war symbol worn by the Germans during Word War II. The symbol is now used not only by a skateboard company, but as a general symbol for power (which might explain why they were mostly on the larger monuments). I left the cemetery still asking my self the question of how these people want to be remembered. I have a hard time coming to understand the need for larger statues and monuments because the dead have passed and are no longer with us. Do these people want to be remembered for being vein and powerful or just have a place for their family survived to reflect and cherish the life of the deceased... The question still remains!